Leadership Lessons for Future CCOs

The Future Leaders Experience  is a unique two-year learning program designed to prepare the next generation of CCOs. Participants from the 2017-2018 class will be sharing about their experience via Page Turner. The following article is from Julie Miller, vice president, communications, Intuit.

Like many Communications professionals, I’ve put investing time to build myself and my network near the bottom of my to-do list. But that changed this week.

I have the privilege of joining 40 other Communications leaders from around the globe who are participating in the Arthur W. Page Society Future Leaders Experience. The first of six sessions over the next two years, focused on understanding our own leadership style and strengths, learning from each other and making enduring connections.

Among this diverse group of future Chief Communications Officers, what stood out most was how much we have in common – a passion for delivering results, the courage to share a point of view, a commitment to transparency and accountability and a deep dedication to growing and nurturing our people.

As I reflect on what resonated with me, three insights best capture my personal aspirations as leader:  

Authentic Leadership

Authentic leadership starts with knowing yourself. Understanding what energizes you, how you behave both when you’re in your comfort zone and when you’re operating well beyond those boundaries. It’s recognizing that people are inspired to follow a real person – flaws and all. It underscores why vulnerability in a leader is essential. I’ve often shared with my team that I think of myself as a crab – hard outer shell with a soft underbelly. Showing my feelings or expressing my self-doubt can be difficult, but I’ve made a commitment to myself and those I lead to embrace it.

Leading authentically also requires us to be intentional about our purpose. Our employees and colleagues deserve to know what we stand for and also, what we want for them. That means articulating and declaring our own leadership point of view so that others know what to expect from us and what we expect from them. And we should understand how our personal leadership vision aligns with and supports our organizational vision and goals and culture.

Empathetic Listening

The CEO of Intuit, Brad Smith, likes to say that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Good leaders listen. Great leaders quiet their minds and listen with empathy. Empathetic listening demands that we’re wholly present and aware of our state of mind during every interaction so that we read between the lines, understand context and interpret the nuances of a conversation. We’re not selectively listening or thinking about what we’ll say next or debating someone else’s perspective. We’re actively engaged in the conversation to share and derive real meaning for each person in the room.

Listening with empathy can be a powerful lever to drive change. I’m learning to ask different questions at the beginning of a change leadership journey: “What’s working today?” “What could be improved?” “What action should we take?” Listening with empathy to the answers to these questions can transform a leader’s understanding of what employees and other stakeholders want, need and expect.

Bridget Coffing, former CCO of McDonalds captured this concept eloquently, asserting that Communications leaders “must go from being the person who has all the answers to the person who knows how to ask the right questions.”

Integrated Thinking

One of the things I love most about the work I do as a communicator is the ability to work and influence end-to-end, across multiple horizons and stakeholders. Communications leaders naturally embrace integrated thinking. Its how we’re wired. We’re the connectors in the organization, bringing together business and functional leaders to solve important business problems. As the leader who often is called upon to connect the dots, communicators also serve as advocates for all the people not in the room when decisions are made – employees, customers, shareholders, etc. Our job is to represent their voice at the table so all perspectives are heard.

I believe that Influence is the currency of communicators. But it requires us to deepen our business acumen so that we can think and operate systematically. We don’t have to be experts at everything, but we do need to understand what drives outcomes for our business. As we collaborate with leaders across the organization, being an integrated thinker helps us speed decision making and alignment. 

I’ve made a personal commitment to build capability in these areas. It’s an invaluable investment in myself that will greatly benefit the company I work for, the teams I lead and the colleagues and stakeholders who rely on me for counsel and support. 

1 Comment

Well said, Julie! Wholeheartedly agree -- including your endorsement of the FLE program. As a past FLE participant, I can tell you that the lessons learned and the relationships (especially the relationships) are unforgettable.
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